The TerraLite backpacking stove is a sustainable cooking solution that operates on alcohol fuel, providing a more environmentally conscious alternative to traditional propane stoves that dominate the market. The typical propane stoves rely on unsustainable fuel sources, inflexible fuel volume systems, and create noise pollution that disturbs the natural landscape. In contrast, alcohol stoves use sustainable fuel, offer flexible fuel volumes, and operate quietly. However, current alcohol stoves on the market often require makeshift cooking kits that hinder the user experience.
Designed to include all necessary elements of an alcohol stove system, TerraLite is able to stage a perfect physical integration of these elements within a cohesive cooking experience. Assembly and use consist of attaching the pot stand and base to the burner, pouring in 1-2oz of fuel, lighting the alcohol vapor, and finally setting the pot on top of the stove. The assembly and use of TerraLite is straightforward: attach the pot stand and base to the burner, add 1-2 ounces of fuel, light the alcohol vapor, and place the pot on top of the stove. Moreover, the TerraLite stove offers versatility, as the burner can be inverted and used as a base for burning solid fuel tabs in locations where alcohol-burning fuels are not advisable.
Upon conducting interviews and gathering personal anecdotes, it became clear that the issues with propane stoves are their unsustainable sourcing and burning of fuel, burning noise, and imprecise fuel dosing from trip to trip. As an avid backpacker, I was accustomed to these challenges until a colleague introduced me to alternative fuel stoves such as wood (biomass) burning and alcohol stoves, which are popular with ultralight thru-hikers due to their simplicity and light weight. However, the problem that surfaced with existing alcohol stoves on the market was their makeshift, non-integrated cooking systems. This sparked my interest to create a cohesive physical user experience for an alternative fuel stove to make alternative fuels more accessible.
The Development Process
To create a functional prototype, I sketched a number of concepts, focusing mainly on wood gasifier stoves and alcohol stoves as my main targets. After delving deeper into the interactions necessary to use both stoves, alcohol fuel emerged as the clear winner. I began building my first functional prototype from aluminum cans using an open pressurized design that bushcraft alcohol enthusiasts have used for years. This allowed me to determine the burn/boil times that I could expect from a similarly designed alcohol stove.
To refine form, fit, and function, I relied heavily on 3D printed base iterations. Once I landed on the final functional considerations, I created multiple variations within SolidWorks to 3D print. The primary goal of early prototypes was to determine the correct size and scale of the stove. Later prints focused on refining leg length, foot width, material thickness, air gaps, etc.
Materials and Manufacturing Considerations
Throughout the final modeling refinement process, I began to determine the material and manufacturing process constraints that I would be working within. Titanium was an ideal choice for the majority of the parts within TerraLite due to its lightness, durability, and heat insulation. However, when using titanium in a pot, hot spots in cooking can result. To eliminate this, stainless steel is a better choice as it distributes heat along the surface area of the pot.
Manufacturing sheet metal is relatively straightforward if designed for the correct processes. There are a total of five unique parts, each designed to undergo a combination of stamping and turning to bring the sheet to its final three-dimensional form. The only assembly necessary for these parts is a single weld along the two-part seam on the burner and to fix the handle sheet hinge to the side of the pot.
Final Concept and Future Endeavors
The final concept is a culmination of the form and function iteration that I pursued throughout this project. Renders and 3D prints of a final realized concept have stood in for functional prototypes due to the cost barrier of creating a representation of the final design in metal being prohibitively high.
I am thrilled about the possibility of an alcohol-fueled backpacking future, and I hope to collaborate with a prototyping shop to bring TerraLite to the market.